In mental health care, a legacy of litigation

Starting in the 1960s a wave of foundation-backed lawsuits (Wyatt v. Stickney, etc.) resulted in the closure or drastic shrinkage of most larger state mental health facilities, with the hope that patients would benefit instead from more humane and decentralized “community-based care.” I have decidedly mixed feelings about the results of that episode: the old system inflicted abuses and deprivation of freedom that cried out for oversight and reform, but the new system has handed a great deal of power to unaccountable litigators managing consent decrees in pursuit of their own, sometimes quite debatable, view of clients’ and society’s best interest. Among the roads not taken: strengthening the inspectorate concept, which places oversight authority in a class of appointees intended to be independent of the care institutions but answerable to judges, elected officials, or both. I’m quoted at length on these issues in Neil Maghami’s new Capital Research Center profile of the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, a key funder of the suits.

One Comment

  • I remember well my euphoria when drugs were discovered that could help those inflicted with severe mental illness to the extent of freeing some from institutional care. It seems that deinstitutionalization went too far and that insufficient follow up care was provided to many.

    I want to thank Mr. Olson for his attention to this problem. The issue requires thoughtful consideration. A nation’s care for the sick is a measure of its moral fitness.